Last year Congress examined AmeriCorps and found it was costing $27,000 a year for each participant rather than the $18,000 promised by President Clinton.

But now it looks as if the situation is even worse at Clinton's pet project to help young people earn college tuition through community service.A recent investigation by the program's inspector general shows the Corporation for National Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, has financial records that are so inaccurate, incomplete and subject to being changed by unauthorized personnel that the operation cannot be audited.

This development confirms this page's observation that AmeriCorps was a mistake from the outset because it is an unnecessary frill that was falsely sold as an exercise in voluntarism even though participants are paid.

Last year the corporation that operates AmeriCorps received about $469 million in government funds. This year the Senate has recommended a cut to $383 million. It would be much better if the program were entirely eliminated.

If the federal budget is ever to be balanced, Washington must do a better job of drawing the line between what's merely useful or desirable and what's genuinely essential. By that standard, AmeriCorps simply does not pass muster.